A Houdini Film VFX Artist’s Introduction to Game VFX in Unreal Engine 4

unreal engine 4 ue4 houdini 15 real time vfx visual effects video game

Two things you should know about this blog post: 1. I ramble sometimes. It’s the price you must pay for getting free things from me. 2. I’ve just released an hour of video lecture on creating effects in Houdini for use in video games. For free.

Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a talk for the Vancouver Houdini User Group meeting. VHUG is a special interest group made up primarily of film artists that meets up every now and then in Vancouver to discuss all things Houdini. As a visual effects artist who has worked primarily in feature film, but has recently made the leap into AAA games, I decided that it would be appropriate to discuss how Houdini can be used to make effects in games rather than film. I decided to avoid covering the familiar territory of Pyro simulations or Mantra renders and jump straight to the thing that keeps me the most busy at work: optimization. It’s a talk about using Houdini and Unreal Engine, but also about what’s different between where the effort goes when making effects for film vs games.

Houdini to Unreal Engine visual effects realtime

Cue The Rambling

There were two major things I liked to do as a kid growing up in rural Nova Scotia: play in the woods in my back-yard, and play in every virtual world I could get my grubby little mitts on in my basement. If you know who I am… I shouldn’t have to tell you that video games have always been a big deal to me. Even back in grade 1, before I owned an NES, I remember trying to design levels for Super Mario Bros. 3 in my notebooks and having page after page of all the Mega Man Robot Masters I would put into my own game if I had the chance.

It’s odd looking back… but I was so caught up in the idea that games came from Japan (my biggest inspirations after all were Capcom, Squaresoft, and Konami), that it never occurred to me I could actually make them too. When it came time to choose a profession, I flipped a coin over my two biggest interests: guitar and art. Art won that coin toss, and so I pursued a career as an animator.

I’m only four paragraphs in, but at this stage I’ve got two options before me: include a list in every paragraph, or stop right now. I hope you understand there ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on, till we get to the end of the line.

So I did the animation thing… though I realized pretty early into my education that vfx was where my interests lie. So I started watching Gnomon dvds (Thanks David!) and following tutorials from Digital Tutors and 3DBuzz. This led to a fruitful career at Side Effects Software Inc. and later a combination of two things: fully animated productions and live action productions.

And then… one day I heard about some indie games through some website called Kotaku. Apparently there were some guys that were making games on their own. Why wasn’t I doing this? So I started doing this. And then one thing lead to another, and I stopped doing this. I learned two big things while attempting to make a game: making a game is a lot of work, and making a game is a lot of work.

I was at least able to use that as a launch pad and got into making games for reals. Like for really reals. Dangit… I can’t think of a good use of a “:” I guess we’re at the end of the line…

How was transitioning from film to games? Kind of tough actually! Film definitely has a high quality bar for visual effects… and that bar is reached through long sims and heaps of particles, voxels, and polygons. But games? Not so many particles, almost no voxels, and much fewer polygons. We’re talking 60 frames per second at real-time… none of those 3 hour per frame renders allowed over in this neck of the woods.

So earlier this year when I was asked to do a talk for VHUG… I decided to give a talk about exactly what every Houdini artist would expect to hear at a Houdini User Group Meeting: Unreal Engine.


This is Where I Stop Rambling

One thing I’ve noticed while being me is: 1. there are a lot of people in the film industry who would like to get into games but are afraid to make the leap, and 2. a lot of people in the game industry are apprehensive of bringing in film artists as they have no idea how to make their effects efficient. I know my transition required guidance from those wonderful folk over at The Coalition. So I decided that this little Houdini to Unreal Engine talk would be specifically how to get started with creating optimized effects. There’s enough stuff out there already of how to use Pyro or Bullet… but not as much on the little things you need to worry about to make something run in real-time, not just look pretty.

VHUG Presentation Houdini

And so, I’ve decided to share this presentation not just with that lucky group of ~40 people who happened to be free that night and living in Vancouver… but with you as well. You lucky dog, you. Thanks to Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn who were instrumental in inventing the internet… you now have the ability to sit in your underpants and learn about making pixels change colour in real-time!

If you’d like to check out this free lecture I’m currently lecturing you about, head on over to Udemy RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Additionally, if you feel that this lecture is a thing that has made your life in any way enriched: let me know!

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